Touring a Local Recycling Center

recyclingt01-24-11.jpgDon your Green hat and safety vest, and take a visit with me to a recycling center here in Austin. My son and I visited the center as part of a special tour set up by Keep Austin Beautiful, and it was an eye-opening experience for this green-blooded girl and her green-blooded kid.

recyclinga01-24-11.jpgAllied Waste Services of Austin is a partner of Keep Austin Beautiful, helping keep our city clean and progressive in environmental stewardship. The local center is a MRF (pronounced merf), or Material Recovery Facility. It is separate from our single-stream processes, which involve a different facility, instead working directly with businesses and the community to take in recyclable items.

recyclingp01-24-11.jpgDay in and day out, they collect and transport materials, to the tune of an impressive 71 tons per day average just from this single collections center. From the Allied Waste website, “Allied Waste recycles approximately 3.3 million tons of materials annually. This metal, plastic and paper is equal to 200 pounds per second. Recycling the paper products alone is equivalent to saving 41 million trees. Every ton of paper that is recovered through recycling saves 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.” Yowza.

The tour leaders reminded us that recycling is a business, even though we environmentally-minded people like to think of it as a do-it-for-the-Earth-and-because-it’s-right sort of action. The materials we send to be recycled get sorted according to type, condensed into big bales that are held by wire, and delivered and sold to third parties in the U.S. and the world to be processed into materials that can then be turned into other products. Bales = Value

recyclingo01-24-11.jpgPlastics, for example, might become plastic lumber which can be used for park benches, construction materials, and so forth. Our living-room carpet is actually made from clear plastic bottles. Note: Before you think this makes it okay to buy lots of water bottles, note that the bottles themselves aren’t made from recycled materials. Reduce your use first, please!


The facility in Austin separates paper and cardboard from all other goods, and from there sorts all the materials even farther. Big conveyor belts carry the materials up ramps to where machines and people both do the actual sorting.

White paper is very valuable, so it’s packaged into its own bales, as is cardboard.


 The plastic bottles, metal and aluminum cans, milk jugs, and so forth are piled together.

 A giant conveyer belt pulls the commingled materials up, then a magnet draws out the tin cans. Aluminum is separated out with an eddy current.


The plastics get sorted by hand. The numbers in the chasing-arrow symbols on the plastics indicate the resin they are made of, not whether they can be recycled. If the plastics are accepted for recycling, they are grouped by that identifying number, and they will get melted together at a specific temperature. Milk jugs are referred to as “natural plastic,” which means that they are unpigmented. They get their own bin.


Pigmented plastics — like those for detergent — get grouped together, as do the clear drink bottles, of which there were a LOT.


Once material is sorted and gathered, it is compressed into giant, heavy bales wrapped with heavy-gauge wire. These bales can weigh between 600 and 2,000 pounds depending on the material. Here is mixed cardboard and paper recently baled:

recyclingk01-24-11.jpgOnce everything is baled, it is carried by forklift to be stacked with similar bales and to wait for the truck to arrive. One truck can carry as many as 48 bales.

Outside, the bales are stacked neatly into formidable walls. From a distance, some of these bales look like blocks of colorful fabrics and textures, but a closer look reveals what the bales really contain: packed, compressed plastic bottles.



Look at this mountain of bales of clear plastic bottles:

recyclingu01-24-11.jpgDepending on the items needed, the materials might be sent around the U.S., into Mexico, or even as far away as China. Plastics will be washed and shredded, then melted. The melted resin might be used to make pellets or flakes that will get further processed into new products.


Tips from the Recycling Center to make things better for the facilities that process and sort the materials:

1) If possible, sort the materials ahead of time — paper separate from plastic, and so forth. Single-stream facilities don’t require this, but other collection facilities appreciate it, since sorting is done manually in most cases.

2) Remove any plastic caps. They are a different plastic resin, and they become dangerous like bullets when compression forces them off the plastic containers. You can send the caps in separately if the center accepts them, but regardless, remove them.

3) Rinse food out of the containers before you send them. While a little residue in a peanut butter jar isn’t a big deal, larger bits or quantities of peanut butter is. Food is the Number One issue that recycling centers deal with. Not only is it an issue of spreading disease and ickiness, as well as the contamination and thus ruining of entire bales of materials, but here’s another word for you: RATS. Help the facilities out by sending in materials that are reasonably clean of food.

4) A word about plastic grocery store bags: for them to be recyclable, they must be very clean — not just free of food but of dirt. Take these directly back to the store for recycling.

5) Though most places won’t take styrofoam, a few facilities will take it if it is made of a plastic with a number accepted by the facilities — check your local recycling centers. Like plastic bags, the styrofoam must be perfectly clean of food and dirt, or it can’t be used.

6) Be careful to only send in materials that actually are on the list of acceptable, recyclable items — remember, contamination can ruin a whole bale of good materials!


Here’s an interesting fact: The recycling symbol with the three arrows that people associate with “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” actually refers to the recycling process itself: Collect, Process (make into something new), Purchase (a consumer buys a product made from the recycled materials). Recycling only works when you close the loop and buy things made from recycled materials, so do more than recycle — be a Green consumer, too!  


Whichever meaning is used for the chasing-arrows symbol, it all means one thing to me: helping the environment. Go Green!

Ready, Set, Duck

ducka01-22-11.jpgJanuary is a quiet month at Hornsby Bend, with primary activity coming from the ducks at the ponds and the wintering songbirds in the woodlands. Even so, 98 species were counted by Travis Audubon birders earlier this month. I was at Hornsby Bend just last weekend, taking a Purple Martin workshop and apparently duckweed watching.

After the workshop I headed over to the ponds. I’m a duck newbie, so I took delight in just watching the birds swim around and taking an occasional picture. The only birds I could easily identify were the American Coots, as their white bills and dark feathers are very distinguishable features.

cootc01-22-11.jpgThe sun was rapidly getting low in the sky, so picture pickins’ were already few, but to make matters worse, my camera battery ran out of juice right before I happened upon a very curious site: several large groups of ducks packed together in a swirling mass in the water, heads feeding below the surface. I’d never witnessed such a phenomena — and drat it, I wanted my camera working! Turns out these were likely Northern Shovelers, filter-feeding as a group.

Looking back through my photos, I did manage to get a picture of a Northern Shoveler — I think — keeping watch over nearby sleeping females.


And while at other times of the year, killdeer are quite plentiful along the water puddles and shore areas, I only saw about 3, and only one of them was kind enough to stay still for a photo.


As always, I long to return to Hornsby Bend for a better visit. Maybe I can get back there during the spring migrations — at a better time of day for photographs!


What Lies Beneath

What lies beneath…

duckweeda01-22-11.jpgWhat lurks below…

duckweedb01-22-11.jpgWhat creature swims within…


duckweedd01-22-11.jpgFor it might catch you unaware…

duckweede01-22-11.jpgAnd scoop you into that big gaping hole of a mouth…

duckweedg01-22-11.jpgThen disappear silently to the depths below….


(This fountain is at Hornsby Bend, one of the best birding spots in all of Texas. Subtle ripples in the duckweed alerted me to the fact that I wasn’t alone.)

Welcome Back, Birdies

cardinal01-15-11.jpgThe cold weather this past week brought a flurry of not snow but birds, and the activity at the feeders was busier than ever. We saw some old familiar favorites join the foraging winter flock, including cardinals, house finches, and goldfinches, as well as some species that are new to me.

gstitmouse01-15-11.jpgOf course, the titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, and wrens are still around, too. All I can say is, “Welcome!”

nuthatch01-15-11.jpgMy friend Marya gave me a container of Jim’s Birdacious Bark Butter from Wild Birds Unlimited, and I tried it out this week. As true as it promises, the birds love it. 

When it was really cold outside, they went crazy for the Bark Butter, and some birds skipped the birdseed entirely. They’ve already cleaned the bark of the high-protein treat, so I’ll be sure to spread some more on right away. Thank you, Marya — the bark butter is a hit!

gsbirdb01-16-11.jpgAnd on a completely different note, Happy Birdie Birthday to my sister Heather!

EDIT: My friend Jane, a Travis Audubon urban bird guru, identified the two last birds above for me — the bottom one is an Orange-Crowned Warbler, and the one above it is a pale Yellow-Rumped Warbler. Jane, thank you!


bigmuhlya01-14-11.jpgThe winter garden might not look like much right now, but Big Muhly never fails to impress, no matter the season. It’s one of my favorite plants in the garden during the cold season, even though there’s scarcely any green visible.

The seedheads criss-cross themselves, but I don’t see a blockade. Instead I see a welcome sign.

bigmuhlyb01-14-11.jpgBig Muhly is also known as Lindheimer’s Muhly, and it’s endemic to the Edwards Plateau here in central Texas. It can grow to be some 5 feet tall in no time. Birds love it as nesting material, and it provides great cover for small wildlife, like lizards. Look how lovely it looks with Goldenrod in the spring, as seen at the Wildflower Center…

wildflowerorgb10-09-09.jpgAnd with Fall Aster in the fall, in my backyard….


What’s extra nice about Big Muhly is that I don’t have to do much to it to take care of it — trimming it can actually do more harm than good, so I just let it be. And in return it gives me a beautiful show… all year long.

The Locally Grown Boggy Creek Farm

boggycrka01-05-11.jpgThis week my family and I had the pleasure of visiting a most delightful organic urban farm in East Austin, Boggy Creek Farm. I’d heard many great things about this farm, and let me say that they are all true and then some!

boggycrkb01-05-11.jpgBoggy Creek Farm offers fresh organic produce at their popular on-the-farm market stand twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9am to 1pm.


boggycrkf01-05-11.jpgboggycrkg01-05-11.jpgIn addition to gorgeous and tasty veggies, fruits, fresh eggs, and other yumminess, they sell locally produced honey, yogurt, goat’s milk, and meats, as well as chocolate, sauces, books, and more. They also offer produce grown on other local organic farms, so that you can always choose from the freshest and largest variety of seasonal produce. During the year, Boggy Creek grows more than 100 kinds of vegetables and fruits.


Owners Carol Ann Sayle and Larry Butler bought their farm and its historic 1800s farmhouse in 1991, but they first began farming back in the 1980s. The farmhouse itself is white and quaint, and lots of delicious seasonal recipes are born there. 

Boggy Creek Farm is about 5 acres, though Carol Ann and Larry also have another farm where they grow even more veggies, those that need more space. While some rows of veggies are green and growing, other rows are being prepped for the next planting. Off to one side of the farm is their large compost area, a source of rich organic matter that revitalizes the soil before each planting. 

boggycrki01-05-11.jpgboggycrkh01-05-11.jpgboggycrkp01-05-11.jpgThough I didn’t get to meet Larry, I can tell you that Carol Ann is a gem among Austinites — her passion for organic farming shines through as she shares stories of her hens and of life on the farm. She was kind enough to give our family a personal tour, including a meet-and-greet with the chickens.


 The Hen House is quite large and has many different sections.

boggycrkl01-05-11.jpgThe chickens are family pets — all 80 of them. They live the good life, right up through their old age. The oldest hen on the farm, shown below, is a remarkable 17 years old!


There are lots of different chicken breeds at the Boggy Creek chicken haven, and Carol Ann can tell you every one of them, along with names and various tales of their personalities. Breeds include Auracana, Ameraucana, Leghorn, Production Red, Polish, and more.

boggycrkk01-05-11.jpgAll the chickens are beautiful, healthy, and happy, and they have a safe home long after they stop laying eggs.

boggycrkn01-05-11.jpgMany of them roam the farm freely, searching for bugs and worms and whatever else looks tasty. They are given leafy green veggies and other organic goodness straight from the farm (sometimes they even try to sneak some straight from the fields).

boggycrkj01-05-11.jpgTo complete their well-balanced diet, the chickens are fed a locally-milled superior soy-free laying mash.

boggycrkq01-05-11.jpgAnd in the afternoons they get a treat — chicken scratch, which includes cracked corn, milo, and other grains.

boggycrkr01-05-11.jpgThey love it so much, they’re happy to jump in the container and eat it right from the source.

boggycrks01-05-11.jpgOf course, the chickens’ incredible diet means that their eggs are equally high in nutrients!

boggycrkt01-05-11.jpgWhile we were there, a few of the Leghorn hens were in the nesting boxes. I hope they didn’t mind me taking photos.

boggycrku01-05-11.jpgboggycrkv01-05-11.jpgThis next one might have minded a little, but I couldn’t resist capturing that glare stare.

boggycrkw01-05-11.jpgIn the photo below, you can see one hen gathering an egg and tucking it under her body. It wasn’t even her egg, as Leghorns lay white eggs.

boggycrkx01-05-11.jpgWe left Boggy Creek Farm wanting to reignite our plans to have a chicken coop and to become regular Market Day customers. I highly recommend you plan a visit, too. Be warned, though — produce can sell out fast!


Which Came First? The Chicken or the New Year

mhfarma01-04-11.jpgHappy New Year! We’ve started our year with my son’s really cool science fair project, and while I can’t tell you anything about it yet — it’s a SECRET — I can tell you that it has prompted us to visit a couple of farms. So we drove out yesterday to visit my aunt’s farm and had great fun visiting with her, my uncle, and all their very spoiled pets — I mean, farm animals.

mhfarmb01-04-11.jpgThe chickens have the run of the farm, but they also have a very nice chicken coop my cousin built, and it gives them a place to roost, nest, and stay protected from predators.

mhfarmd01-04-11.jpgI’m very jealous because neither my cousin nor my husband has built me a chicken coop yet. What is up with that?!!

mhfarmc01-04-11.jpgWell, perhaps some day, at least — I’m newly inspired again. Anyone want a husky? (Just kidding — It’s sort of an ongoing joke that we need to find our very high-maintenance monster dog a new home, and the subject comes up again whenever we talk about dogs and chickens).

mhfarme01-04-11.jpgMostly, though, the hens seem to delight in pecking, scratching, and taking dust baths all day long — and figuring out what other exciting places they can lay eggs in around the farm, giving my aunt and uncle a sort of Easter Egg hunt all year long.

mhfarmf01-04-11.jpgThat’s my Aunt Marilyn there — absolutely one of my most favorite people in the world. Kind, sweet, thoughtful, and inspiring — she’s just amazing. And she’s about the only person I know who can rival us in numbers of pets — she’s cheating, though, because she has livestock. But I have FISH.

The boys enjoyed feeding the donkeys and goats. Marty is the donkey that looks like it tried to eat out of a white paint bucket, and Judy is the mostly gray one.

mhfarmg01-04-11.jpgThe goats, Fudgy and Elmer, are the cutest, fattest goats I’ve ever seen. The brown one, Fudgy, looks at you with these big puppy-dog eyes, and your heart just melts.

mhfarmh01-04-11.jpgWe were so caught up in all the animals that I completely forgot to ask my aunt and uncle how their garden is doing. We’ll have to go visit again in the season of greenness, just a couple of months away.